Craig Wright, an Australian computer scientist who claims to be the inventor of bitcoin, has prevailed in a civil trial against the family of a deceased business partner that claimed it was owed half of a cryptocurrency fortune worth tens of billions of dollars.
A Florida jury on Monday found that Wright did not owe half of 1.1m bitcoins to the family of David Kleiman. The jury did award US$100m in intellectual property rights to a joint venture between the two men, a fraction of what Kleiman’s lawyers were asking for at trial.
“This was a tremendous victory for our side,” said Andres Rivero of Rivero Mestre LLP, the lead lawyer representing Wright.
David Kleiman died in April 2013 at the age of 46. Led by his brother Ira Kleiman, his family has claimed David Kleiman and Wright were close friends and co-created bitcoin through a partnership.
At the centre of the trial were 1.1m bitcoins, worth approximately $50bn based on Monday’s prices. These were among the first bitcoins to be created through mining and could only be owned by a person or entity involved with the digital currency from its beginning such as bitcoin’s creator, Satoshi Nakamoto.
Now the cryptocurrency community will be looking to see if Wright follows through on his promise to prove he is the owner of the bitcoins. Doing so would lend credence to Wright’s claim, first made in 2016, that he is Nakamoto.
The case tried in federal court in Miami was highly technical, with the jury listening to explanations of the intricate workings of cryptocurrencies as well as the murky origins of how bitcoin came to be.
Jurors took a full week to deliberate, repeatedly asking questions of lawyers on both sides as well as the judge on how cryptocurrencies work as well as the business relationship between the two men. At one point the jurors signalled to the judge that they were deadlocked.
Bitcoin’s origins have always been a bit of a mystery, which is why this trial has drawn so much attention from outsiders. In October 2008 during the height of the financial crisis, a person or group of people going by the name “Satoshi Nakamoto” published a paper laying out a framework for a digital currency that would not be tied to any legal or sovereign authority. Mining for the currency, which involves computers solving mathematical equations, began a few months later.
The name Nakamoto, roughly translated from Japanese to mean “at the centre of,” was never considered to be the real name of bitcoin’s creator.
Wright’s claim that he is Nakamoto has been met with scepticism from a sizeable portion of the cryptocurrency community. Due to its structure, all transactions of bitcoin are public and the 1.1 million bitcoins in question have remained untouched since their creation.
Members of the bitcoin community have regularly called for Wright to move just a fraction of the coins into a separate account to prove ownership and show that he truly is as wealthy as he claims.
During the trial, both Wright and other cryptocurrency experts testified under oath that Wright owns the bitcoins in question.
Wright said he would prove his ownership if he were to win at trial.
The lawyers for W&K Information Defense Research LLC, the joint venture between the two men, said they were “gratified” that the jury awarded the $100m in intellectual property rights to the company, which developed software that set the groundwork for early blockchain and cryptocurrency technologies.
“Wright refused to give the Kleimans their fair share of what [David Kleiman] helped create and instead took those assets for himself,” said Vel Freedman and Kyle Roche of Roche Freedman LLP and Andrew Brenner, a partner at Boies Schiller Flexner, in a joint statement.
Wright’s lawyers have said repeatedly that David Kleiman and Wright were friends and collaborated on work together, but their partnership had nothing to do with bitcoin’s creation or early operation.
Wright has said he plans to donate much of the bitcoin fortune to charity if he were to win at trial. In an interview, Wright’s lawyer Rivero reconfirmed Wright’s plans to donate much of his bitcoin fortune.